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Seasonal and Local in the Off-season

November 11, 2011

“How do you eat locally… in the winter?” I really enjoyed Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She writes about her family’s effort to grow most of their own food and procure much of the remainder of their diet from local and sustainable sources. In the midst of summer, it is easy to imagine providing all of your own food. However, once the leaves fall from the trees, the garden is not as generous. So how does one eat locally during the off-season?

For us, eating locally in January requires work in August. Canning, freezing, pickling and drying are a big piece of what we and many others do in the summer and fall. In January, we can be eating much of what we grew in the garden, just differently. Canned tomatoes become pasta sauce and frozen green beans find their way into a soup pot.

Often, people misconstrue the locavore diet for deprivation. On the contrary, we relish things abundant in the moment. Today, we cracked open a jar of our homemade dill pickles and nearly polished off the whole thing. (You wouldn’t blame us, if only you could smell the garlic and dill!)

A friend asked me if I could put together a local seasonal food guidebook that she might read to better know the rhythms of nearby farms. This is an interesting proposition, as every farm is a little different. I don’t know how to write a book that would account for all the differences between individual farms. Some of us are extending the season with cool-weather crops, such as kale, lettuce, and parsley by using low tunnels and cold frames. Others have constructed heated greenhouses. Some farms focus on lesser-known veggies, like bok choy or mizuna. Some farms will have raspberries a few weeks early by using portable high-tunnels to encourage early fruiting. We are all so different.

It seems to me the solution is to really get to know the people growing your food. Ask them what they’re growing right now. Ask them how they grew it. Keep in mind that not all farmer’s markets require sellers to only sell their own produce. Many vendors sell auction produce, which may have traveled quite a distance from small or industrial, organic or chemical farms. When you purchase directly from a farmer, there is an opportunity to hold the farmer accountable by asking, “Did you grow this?” and “How?” Here is a great resource for questions to ask farmers.

How do you find good farmers? The internet has made that a lot easier, although it is important to keep in mind that not all farms are online. Local Harvest is a fantastic website that lists farms, markets, CSA farms, cheesemakers and much more. Buy Fresh, Buy Local PA also provides great resources to find not only farms, but also restaurants and stores that offer local goods.

Finally, eating locally is not just about acquiring locally grown produce. There is work to be done in the kitchen. Luckily, there are many cookbooks on the topic of seasonal cooking. I’d like to recommend a few.

There are also many books out there on the topic of putting food by (canning, freezing, drying, storing).
These days we’re enjoying food we put by during the peak of produce season. We’re also harvesting fresh greens from our low tunnels. Yesterday we opened the tunnels and coldframes to let in some rain. It may be off-season, but it’s still a joy! Here are a few photos.

In any season, we hope you’re eating well. Questions? Comments? Send them to us at

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 12, 2011 8:55 pm

    Thanks so much for this wonderful post. My house is trying harder than ever to eat local this year, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot as winter draws closer. More than anything, this inspired me to get my butt in gear and can as much now as possible. With the move at the end of summer, I got pretty behind.

    Thanks again! ❤

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